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Mike is recovering from a debilitating illness, his recovery confines him to his house. Fortunately, he has his old terrier Sammy for company, but still, it’s pretty boring with nothing but time on his hands, Sammy is bored too. One day Mike’s daughter is visiting with his 2-year-old granddaughter, and they leave behind a plastic stacking rings toy. Mike sees Sammy running around with one of the rings in his mouth playing, and that gives Mike an idea. What if he could train Sammy to put the colorful plastic rings on the toy post, in order from largest to smallest? It would be something to do and think of how delighted Mike’s granddaughter will be when she next comes to visit and sees Sammy has mastered her toy game!
This is not an easy trick for a dog to learn and will take a significant amount of time to teach a dog. An older dog that has a lower energy level may not be particularly motivated to learn the trick, so getting an older dog engaged with the use of food, treats, and a clicker will be necessary. The good news is, that while stacking rings can be mentally challenging, it is not particularly physically challenging, so even an older dog with a health issue is capable of doing it. In fact, it is a great activity for an older dog with physical limitations as it engages his mind, gives him a sense of accomplishment, and a task to be successful at when other previously learned tasks may not be realistic for an older dog. Working in multiple short sessions and keeping energy level and interest in your older dog high will be key to success.
A dog can be taught to stack a series of rings on a pole. Usually, a children’s plastic toy is used consisting or a plastic pole on a stand that accommodates a series of progressively smaller, brightly colored rings that must be placed in order on the pole for all the rings to fit. Using color as a guide for your dog to differentiate rings may not be useful, as dogs do not have accurate color discernment. Your dog will need to be taught to distinguish rings and order based on size. A makeshift ring game can be made with a paper towel tube and homemade rings.
Your dog will need to pick up rings in his mouth, in order if necessary, and carry them to the stacking pole. The dog will then need to center the hole of the ring over the stacking pole and release each ring so that it falls over the pole and comes to rest. This trick is fairly complex, involving several tasks and your dog will need to learn that ring size and order are important to complete. It will take significant time and energy on your part and your dog's to learn. An older dog may need motivation to stay on task. While a puppy may get excited and treat this as play, an older dog may be more interested in working for a tangible reward, such as a food treat. The good news is that this trick is not physically demanding and even an older dog should be capable of performing it. Also, an older dog may have more patience and focus than a younger dog, which may give him an advantage.
You will need lots of time and treats to teach this trick. It is a fairly complex series of behaviors and will need to be broken down into several steps that can be sequenced in order to successfully complete. Be prepared to spend many sessions accomplishing this trick. You can use a children's plastic ring stacking toy, or make your own with wood or a paper towel tube and improvised rings. Have fun!
The Shape Method
Reinforce touch pole
Present your dog with the plastic pole of a stacking ring game. Wait for your dog to touch the pole with his nose, click and treat, say “yes”. Continue to click and treat your dog for touching the top of the pole with his nose. Toss treats away so your dog has to return to the pole to touch for reinforcement. This sets your dog up for tossing rings later on.
Reinforce pick up rings
Once touching the pole is well established, teach your dog to retrieve rings. Toss the largest ring a few feet from your dog. Click and reinforce when your dog touches the ring with his nose, then when he mouths the ring, then when he picks up the ring and returns to you, carrying it and releasing to you.
Release ring near pole
Put the stacking stick where your dog is returning the ring to you. Toss the ring and retrieve it and provide a treat when your dog releases the ring to you over top of the stick. At this point, do not worry about your dog getting the ring over the pole, click and treat for releasing the ring touching the pole.
Release ring over pole
Continue shaping, you may help by guiding the ring over the pole when your dog releases it. When your dog eventually gets the ring over the pole, usually by accident, hold a big treat party! Make a big deal, get excited for your older dog. Continue practicing until your dog starts getting good at releasing the ring in the correct position over the pole so it slides down the pole.
Start introducing other sized rings in order from largest to smallest in small increments, continue clicking and treating for each step. Hold a “jackpot” click and treat party, when your dog is successful getting the correct ring, in the correct order, over the pole until the entire ring stack game is complete.
The Lure Method
Lure to rings
If your older dog is not interested in playing with or picking up the rings, smear a treat like peanut butter on the largest ring. When your dog mouths or licks the ring, praise him and provide more treats; get him excited about mouthing the ring.
Lure to retrieve rings
Gradually start waiting for your older dog to pick up the ring in his mouth before providing treats. Call your dog to you and provide more treats for retrieving the rings. Make sure this behavior is well established.
Lure to pole
Place the ring pole in front of you, toss the ring and hold a treat over the ring pole, when your dog comes to the pole and drops the ring at the pole, provide the treat. Repeat frequently until your dog is reliably picking up ring and bring it to the pole to get a treat.
Lure over pole
Hold the treat right on top of the pole and when your dog drops the ring, guide it over pole with your hand. Make sure the dog is doing part of the work. Throw a big treat party and give lots of praise. Maintain motivation.
Lure rings in order
Continue practicing until your dog is releasing the ring over the pole so it slides down on its own. Provide a high value treat. Then start introducing different size rings in the correct order. You may hand the correct size rings at first. Later start luring your dog to the correct size rings in order with treats and then lure back to the pole. Wait to treat your dog until he gets the ring on the pole, continue assisting as necessary so your older dog does not lose interest or get frustrated.
The Make it Simple Method
Use narrow stick, large rings
Hold a narrow stick and use a large-mouthed homemade ring. A stick can consist of a paper towel tube or a wooden dowel from a curtain rod or other household item.
Scoop retrieved rings
Teach your dog to fetch rings and bring them back to you in exchange for a treat. When your dog returns to you, hold the stick out and scoop the ring with the stick. Treat your dog. Continue to practice.
Reward targeting stick
Eventually your dog will start targeting the end of the stick. Encourage and treat until your dog is placing the ring on the stick.
Set up simple ring pole
Place the stick upright on the floor, you can attach it to a stand so it does not tip over easily. Shorten the stick if necessary so it is not too difficult for your dog to reach with his retrieved ring.
Reinforce targeting pole
Continue to toss rings and to encourage your dog targeting the stick by patting it with your hand and providing teats for getting the ring near, touching, and then onto the stick.
Make more complex with different size rings, and a wider, taller stick until your dog is successfully taking the correct size rings and putting on the pole.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 01/17/2018, edited: 01/08/2021